With over 2000 collaborative technology solutions flooding the market, with hundreds coming out on a yearly basis, standing out in the field is difficult.  

But during a webinar and a follow up interview, I was impressed with how well thought out a new Cisco product was (which isn't something I always say with Cisco collaboration products).

Cisco developed Cisco Collaborative Knowledge (CCK) to address the way changes in the workforce, in business, in new markets and mobility strategies impacted learning. It recognized that it wasn't addressing these changes, especially on mobile. CCK supports the skilled workforce with access to learning anywhere, anytime and on any device. The system connects the workforce to experts as mentors and through content and it provides metrics to quantify individual growth and learning.

The metrics are key. Cisco knew from its previous learning network experience that if it did not connect all of this to clear business outcomes, rapid innovation with collaboration and co-creation, it would not fly. The goal of this for Cisco partners, clients and prospects was to help them stay agile, and connect the training to an achievable ROI.

Learning From Your Network

Cisco developed and deployed CCK internally in 2015 to huge success: it had an 85 percent adoption rate (which is amazing) among its 14,400 service organization employees, with roughly one third accessing and using the tool on a daily basis. CCK is a continuous learning environment, as well as a community of practice. The company spent a lot of time on what features and functions a continuous learning environment needed. 

A few of the features it identified as critical include:

  • Expert discovery
  • Training
  • Social learning
  • Peer validation
  • Asynchronous collaboration — i.e. time shifted discussions
  • RTC interactions through WebEx and Jabber
  • High level of security for knowledge sharing and content syncing
  • Rate, rank and review both experts and the content
  • Mobile (which some initial customers had problems with)

cisco collaborative knowledge

Figure 1: Cisco Collaborative Knowledge home page

Stretching Your Expertise

Ryan Rose, product manager for Collaborative Knowledge said that the system differed from Cisco's existing enterprise learning management system (LMS) in that it offered users users an end-to-end experience by integrating all of the different tools. Rose called it “a heat map for the mind,” as it tells the user where to grow.

The platform aims to span all of the tools contained within it, which is why the search bar (figure 1) says “find answers.” Searches crawl the data center, blog posts, communities, documents, traditional learning and personal folders to uncover relevant responses. It also uses a combination of semantic processing and a sophisticated ontology on the back end with social interactions to identify people designated as experts in the area.

A drop-down under the home tab called “Knowledge Map” (figure 2) displays a visual representation of a person’s knowledge map with three types of connections: people, content and knowledge. This map helps show areas where your knowledge can be improved. Let’s assume, for example, that you are an engineer, and you know how to grow your skills vertically to move up in ranks of expertise. But often you do not know what skills are outside your reach, like for example, project management.

This map helps you to grow skills and expertise in that “stretch” area. You can find communities on project management, courses on project management, and it is a way to turn information into intelligence. One click could identify specific skills that would benefit a specific organization, for example, building a Gantt chart for a project team. By creating a community out of your project team, you can push courses out to the whole team.

cisco knowledge map

Figure 2: Your Knowledge Map in Cisco Collaborative Knowledge

Have Tablet, Will Travel

The Collaborative Knowledge platform focuses on the end user experience, especially on mobile devices. CCK supports use on mobile platform (see Figure 3) through responsive technology and a mobile-specific folder in the tabs (called, appropriately enough, “mobile folder”) holds information you want viewable on mobile, or information originating from your mobile device. It is a secure location from which you can share documents, conversations, texts, etc.

The "Learning" tab on the left side has a traditional LMS, providing front-end tools to develop learning plans, defining learning pathways, and advice on which courses would compose a curriculum. It gives the learning architect the ability to attach specific training for specific jobs or roles. All of the traditional learning tools are available: quizzes and tests, tasks, or a trackable learning experience.

The "Knowledge Library" tab below contains best practices, PDFs, WebEx recordings or videos. Videos can be launched from within the Knowledge library, to keep the learning in context.

The "Collaborate" tab is all about communities, where people can connect to each other (figure 4).

 Cisco on Mobile Devices

Figure 3: Collaborative Knowledge on Mobile

Collaboration Knowledge communities

Figure 4: Communities in Collaborative Knowledge

Communities can scale from small private groups (like between a mentor and a mentee), to a more robust group. It allows for the use of blogs, wikis, descriptions, library files, members, proxy assignments. The idea here is to help people build knowledge together by providing the tools to craft the future of the knowledge library.

The "Collaborate" tab shows information about community members, and the "People" tab below displays personal profiles (figure 5).

Collaborative Knowledge Personal Profiles

Figure 5: Personal profiles in Collaborative Knowledge showing expertise

Profiles show the person's picture, areas of expertise and number of peer reviews. You can track people by the communities they are members of, their interactions, and read peer reviews and ratings of an individual's expertise. Expertise is validated in a three-step process.

A Mix of Old and New

CCK works within any browser (Chrome, Firefox, I.E., Safari, etc.) as well as with a number of well known LMS like Saba. It is based on both Jabber and WebEx, but other tools can be easily added. Cisco loads its own training resources onto the platform, and others can be added in two ways, through the training catalog, or an admin can add it to the Knowledge Library.

The minimum number of subscribers for CCK is 25, but the platform can scale to tens of thousands. The tool is a natural evolution of Cisco's learning and collaboration tools, and takes many cues from the Cisco Learning Network (around for the last decade), social networks and social learning, expertise location.

Users of those tools wanted one integrated tool, but that involved building new social learning modules. Although people could previously use Jabber to connect with others, they didn't know if the people had the expertise they were looking for. This meant building an expertise location module. The tool had to be both synchronous and asynchronous without requiring users to switch context. It needed a secure file system to move and store content, and a way that content could be stored, sorted, searched and saved, as well as rated, ranked and reviewed.

Cisco added in its own Moodle-based, open source LMS, and integrated it with social learning, and the ability to find an expert who might create and teach the course, as well as run an online study group. All of the IP can be stored in the knowledge library and virtualized through WebEx. The final module Cisco created was related to the metrics and analytics as well as virtual knowledge mapping.

Cisco believes this integration of the old and new meets the needs of today’s changing workforce. It helps show what people know, and where individuals can build their skills and strengths. It frees up data to help people make better decisions at the individual level, and at the team and departmental levels as well. But the critical piece is the analytics. By tying learning to objectives, CCK might just give your workforce a competitive edge.